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Titans of Tech

12 March 2024 - 4 minutes

Titans of Tech: Ginni Rometty About Professional Growth and Embracing Scary Challenges

The former CEO of IBM teaches us resilience and boldness 

Juliette Carreiro - Tech Writer

Tech News

It's a short step from big sister nanny to truck engineer or even to president of one of the world's most famous tech companies. 

Through hard work and perseverance, Virginia (Ginni) Rometty became one of the very few women CEOs of a top 500 US company, IBM, where she served as a leader from 2012 to 2020. 

This woman symbolizes the essence of existentialism, the philosophical movement embodied by Jean Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir in 20th century France. Its key idea is very simple: "existence precedes essence.” Ginni is the very embodiment of the fact that everyone is the master of their own destiny. Contrary to pre-written life scenarios from which there is no escape, this strong-willed businesswoman shows us, in her own words, that "where there is a will, there is a way."

A Childhood of Hardship and Resilience 

Ginni was born into a middle-class family. Her mother was a housewife, raising her and her three siblings and when she was 16, Ginni’s father left home. Her mother and her four young children were left destitute, with no money and no home. 

We were on food stamps and my mother felt ashamed to have to do something like that. But she was determined that this would not be how the story ends. She went back to school, got a job and then a better job, and so on. It was one of the most defining elements of my life.”

This image of a determined and brave woman certainly shaped Ginni’s mantra for the rest of her life.

“Only you define who you are”

Ginni started from nothing and struggled to build a career that matched her ambitions. She graduated at the top of her high-school class, earning a big scholarship from General Motors to further study. With this money, she attended Northwestern University, as one of the few women in their engineering program:

I came from no money, no anything, to go to a great school. It was just not the norm. This is why I feel so strongly when there is a will, there is a way”. 

After graduating with honors in 1979, she took her first job with General Motors, working as an engineer on trucks and buses. A year later, she took a job with IBM as a systems engineer and quickly became a rising star within the company. But if you think you know the rest, hold on tight: it’s not all easy from here.

“Stand up to scary challenges:” the scarier, the better

Like many women, Ginni almost missed out on a successful career because of impostor syndrome:

 “10 years into my career, I was offered a promotion. The man who had offered it said: ‘you should take my job’. I said, ‘I’m not ready for this thing yet. Just give me a little more time…’. I went home that night and my husband said: ‘do you think a man would have answered the question the same way?’ So, I went back the next day and I took the job."

Let's dive a bit deeper into where this feeling comes from; it all began in 1995 in Pittsburgh, USA, when a man named McArthur Wheeler decided to rob two banks with his face uncovered. He was arrested and left feeling stunned. Why? Well:

  • He had smeared lemon juice on his face, convinced that it would make him invisible to the cameras. 

  • Psychologists David Dunning and Justin Kruger conducted a three-part study on students to find out how someone so ignorant could overestimate himself that much. 

  • They discovered that the more gifted students tended to underestimate themselves, while the less skilled clearly overestimated themselves. 

  • But what accounts for this overconfidence on the part of the less gifted? According to the Dunning Kruger effect, the answer is simple: the less skilled the person is, the less likely they are to know they are ignorant. 

This syndrome leads to some pretty funny situations; for example, where men take the liberty of explaining something to women who know more about a certain subject than they do. Rebecca Solnit, an entrepreneur and author of Men Explain Things to Me, coined the concept of mansplaining, the act of explaining to a woman what she already knows. She once found herself in a conversation where a gentleman was trying to explain her own book to her without listening to the fact that she was actually the author

In short, Ginni's husband's words resonate with Rebecca Solnit's work, as several studies have shown that men are far more likely than women to take a job that they aren’t completely confident about. Ginni's journey teaches us that you have to throw yourself into the fight and stand up for yourself, being confident in what you can do. 

In 2012, Ginni became the first woman CEO in IBM’s 100 years history. With 30 years of experience under her belt, she tells us the following: 

Growth and comfort never coexist. If you want to grow as a leader, you welcome challenges, you welcome risk. Because you know you come out better on the other side."

At Ironhack, we know that there’s a lot of work to be done in terms of gender equality and achieving a tech world that’s more welcoming towards women is exactly what we aim for when creating our bootcamps. Our flexible and customizable courses are designed with the student in mind, doing everything we can to make tech accessible for women. 

If you’re ready to take the first step towards a future in tech and contribute to a more equal future, you’re in the right place. Explore our courses in web development, UX/UI design, data analytics, cybersecurity, artificial intelligence engineering, DevOps & cloud computing, and data science and machine learning and kickstart your tech future. 

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